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All posts for the month November, 2011

On Boys and Reading

Published November 30, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

I received a comment to my post yesterday saying

That teen is different from many others.. i must say.

And it got me wondering.  Did she mean the fact that he attends literary functions, that he reads and will discuss literature?  So I wanted to point out that while James, 14, does do these things he also plays representative rugby union, basketball, terribly violent video games, picks on his sister and thinks anyone over the age of 16 is senile.

Earlier this year I was very privileged to attend the Newington Literary Festival, and was further privileged to enter a discussion about boys and reading with Oliver Phommavahn and Tristan Bancks.  I am a firm believer that the best way to get kids reading is to be a reader.  Kids copy what they see adults doing.  They revile against what they perceive as “Do as I say, not as I do”, and so they should. 

 Tristan is the father to 2 small boys and while he immediately agreed that it is easy as pie (or is that easy as Pi?) to read to preschoolers, it is really difficult to engage high school boys in reading, and nigh impossible to get them to talk about it.  Yes it’s true, but impossible is wonderful.  I have yet to read 6 Impossible Things (it’s on my to do list), but I like it as a quote from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland in which Alice says she likes to do six impossible things before breakfast.  Or follow Kate Forsyth’s advice, aim for the moon.

Another wise Kate, my crazy cousin Katie, also has great quote “You’ll never do it younger”.  Age is such a good excuse!  No it is not!  Just yesterday I heard the mother of a kindergarten child tell me why she can’t read with her daughter.  You have to make reading a priority, for yourself, and for your kids.

In our family we still read and recommend books to parents, our children and our grandchildren.  Why?  We have established a literary community within our own family, and even my 18 month old joins in.

I was surprised and amazed to hear Tristan, just 20 minutes after disagreeing with me, advise the assembled audience of parents of private high school boys that they should read with their sons.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It was good advice. 

Please, if you haven’t read with your son since he could tie his shoe laces,  don’t go shoving Harry Potter, Gone or The Coolhunters under his nose and expect him to read it.  What you do is choose a book YOU want to read, sit back on a Sunday afternoon and read it.  If your son (or daughter) sees you doing this you smile, say “How ya going?” and go back to your book.  You are MODELLING READING.  You are modelling being so caught up in an imaginary world that you can’t put the book down.  If you catch your offspring reading, say “Whatchya reading?”, hopefully they’ll answer.  You say “Cool” and walk away. 

Don’t push it. 

Keep modelling. 

Maybe one day, not too far from now, they’ll ask what you’re reading and, again – don’t push it, you have the beginning of a literary conversation. 

It can also work with magazines, newspapers and blogs (Go on, practise looking interested right now!)

I would also like to point out that James did not go willingly to his first Poetry Slam.  I told him I was taking him for a special treat for his birthday, but refused to tell him where.  When I did eventually reveal his “treat” he groaned.  However, it was, and continues to be such an amazing event that I officially never have to think of different birthday present again.  He wants to go every year for the rest of his life – success!

DISCLAIMER: CC Katie is a science nerd and has forced me to rearrange Kate Forsyth’s saying to be more “astronomically correct”.  If you catch me writing “Aim for the stars:  If you don’t reach them at least you’ll fall amongst the moon”, please blame Katie!

Polar Boy Activities, Stage 2 NSW Literacy

Published November 30, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

Howdy teachers:

Polar Boy is the amazing story of a boy overcoming his fears and following his destiny.  I hope you find my teaching notes useful, but remember these are just a few ideas that you could use.

It is also the story of first contact between a native people and a foreign power.  I have not explored this perspective here but I think it is an interesting one.

Polar Boy Integrated Unit

Polar boy activity matrix

This book was on the CBCA Awards Shortlist in 2009.

Interview with a teenage reader

Published November 29, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

So you know I took 14 year old James to The Australian Poetry Slam finals for the fourth year in a row and he loved it. Great, a teenage boy who loves the language arts, and he does, but this is how the interview started:

ELECTRICBLUEGAL: Hey, can I interview you for my blog?
JAMES: No.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: Ok. So, are you reading anything at the moment?
JAMES: No
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: How do you choose a book to read?
JAMES: I dunno. Look at the cover and see if it looks interesting.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: So what makes a cover interesting?
JAMES: I dunno. Hey, why does this thing say it’s recording?
INTERVIEW TERMINATED

Fortunately he opened up a bit after two and a half hours of lyrical magic at the Slam.

ELECTRICBLUEGAL: What makes you want to stop reading a book?
JAMES: If it gets boring.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: Elaborate
JAMES: Like, Harry Potter. Man, that book was boring.
(I have to point out here that I never would have read Harry Potter if it wasn’t for James loving the movie at the age of 5, which I personally think is too young to watch it.)
JAMES: I gave up, I just couldn’t believe there was 300 pages where nuh-thing happened. And I gave up in the same place when I watched the movie.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: (shocked) but have you seen it all now?
JAMES: yeah, my friends said it was good, but just really boring. But I don’t agree.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: That it was boring?
JAMES: That it was good. I mean the whole of The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. . . when they’re in the forest was so boring.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: I’ve heard people say that, but for me one of the bits when they’re in the forest was the most compelling. And in the book too. When the werewolves walk past with the body if the little boy I got goosebumps, and I wasn’t even a mum when I read it.
JAMES: I guess they just did the best with the material they had. The book was just so boring.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: But what else could she have done? I know some bits were a bit tedious, but I think they were necessary. What would you have had here leave out?
JAMES: The whole first half of the book.

And there you have it, folks, from the mouths of babes: Apparently, Harry Potter is boring.
He did, however, recommend one book. Gone. What’s it about? People who go. Sounds riveting.

A Sound Kisses Your Ear

Published November 28, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

 Last night I took my 14 year old cousin to the Australian Poetry Slam Final. 

It was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

If you have not been before, you are missing out on something. 

The 16 finalists from around the country entered the theatre to a rock star’s welcome, while the DJ played Eye of the Tiger.  We knew we were in for some blood, sweat and tears from our wordsmiths.  The Australian Poetry Slam has grown from humble beginnings all due to the tireless efforts of Chicago born Miles Merrill, who is himself an extremely talented poet and performer.

 The good news is that you don’t have to wait a whole 12 months, the preliminary rounds start in June.  I’ll post a link at the end of the blog so just keep reading.

Here are my top two reasons for loving poetry slam:

1.  A sound kisses your ear . . .

It was a line from one of the poems last night and it keeps dancing around my mind.  This is the beauty of spoken words, they kiss your ear and like the wind are gone, all but a memory.  There were cameras, and I am sure you’ll see snippets on the web here and there, but it is an essentially ‘in the moment’ experience.  It’s one of those things where you had to be there – body mind and soul, because you can’t just watch it back on iview, or put a bookmark in it and come back after you check your emails.  Spoken word art demands more of you than the written word, but it also gives you so much in return.

Sometimes the kisses were rough and lusty, others shy and immature, all trying to seduce you, and yes baby, I want more.

2 Accessibility . . .

 I first came across Poetry Slam in the early part of the noughties at the school I worked at in London.  The Poetry Slam organisers send poets into the schools to workshop the year 6s and the best are chosen to compete in the Slam.  The first poetry slammer, or as Miles Merrill prefers to be known, Spoken Word Artist, I came across looked like an extra from Trainspotting, and she came right out and told the kids that she’s had a bit of a troubled life, but as she stepped out in front of her audience of 300 little eager faces she spoke with such passion and vitality that her sins were washed clean.  Poetry Slam is, for me, the height of communication excellence.  It is direct participation with an audience.  I highly recommend the experience.  I first took my cousin for his 11th birthday, having first confirmed with his mum it was ok because the poems rate G to R.  I refused to tell him where we were going till we got there, but of course it was so amazing that this is now our little annual treat.

Omar Mussa, the 2008 Poetry Slam Champion, claimed that last night was the greatest! I have to agree that the quality of the performers continues to improve, but so do the audience.  The audience seem more educated, opinionated and appreciative.  I loved being part of the roaring standing ovation – for a poet!  Who can beat that?

So if you need more convincing, or if you’re already hooked and want to know more check out Word Travels

http://www.wordtravels.info/

and enjoy the journey.

On Death, Dumbledore and Stephanie Meyer . . . (or My Confession: Part Two)

Published November 27, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

 

As I was saying before real life so rudely interrupted . . .

If you don’t already know that Dumbledore dies, I’m really not sure what you’re doing reading this blog, but he does in about the middle of the series and for me it was, to put it crassly “a game changer”.

If Dumbledoree and all those who perished at the end of the last one could actually be killed off, anyone was dispensable – anyone with the possible exception of Bella and Edward of course, whose love we are lead to believe is immortal yadda, yadda, yadda.

But to even the Teeny-Bit Twi-Hard, there are quite a few Forks residents who we’d be sad to loose. I had heard that the actors who play Alice and co were demanding a pay rise as they felt their contributions to the phenomenon had been financially overlooked. I don’t follow the gossip mags quite closely enough to know if their requests were fruitful, but I have to agree that none of the stories could have been possible, certainly withoutAlice. And the big guy – whose name escapes me, also provides a large degree of comic humour to what has otherwise been a series that had been laughed at rather than with.

At the end of the day, I have to shout it loud and proud, that I like Twilight for a number of reasons, and not just for Jacobs bare chest. Stephanie Meyer may not have a thoroughly respected writing style (I agree that the most interesting chapters in New Moon may be October to January) but I believe her storytelling matures throughout the series, and I also quite liked the Host. Yes, Meyer writes romance. There is no escaping it. But Anita Heiss is inspirational in her assertion that there is no shame in writing for chicks. We rock, and so does Twilight.

 

My Confession

Published November 26, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

So I’m about to blow any credibility I could ever have developed by admitting that I like Twilight. I claimed to ‘bug in a book’ that it was the best book I read last year, and that was probably going too far but there is something about the mindless escapism that appeals to me and let’s face it, millions of others out there.
So what is it about the series, the story, the sensation that is so appealing? A quick straw poll among my girlfriends reveals that it’s not Meyer’s agonizing prose, or even the apparently irresistible charm of either edward or Jacob.
Is it, as so many middle aged Twi-hards claim, that we just want to be loved the way Edward loves Bella? Not on your Nelly. To my mind that type of destructive co-dependance should have died out with the Montagues and Capulets.

My sources concur that it is the escapism that we love.
The last one, um . . . Breaking Dawn, isn’t it? That’s my favourite because it is pure, undistilled escapism: fast cars, high fashion, vampires with super powers and an epic battle that could seriously mean the destruction of any one of the main characters, I mean anything goes after JK Rowling famously killed off Dumbledor et al.
Tbc (Miss 3’s Ballet class has finished)

Give it up for eBooks (and Talking Books)!

Published November 25, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

So you’re verhmently against eBooks, are you? Worried they’ll rot our little kiddies minds away? I seem to remeber people saying that about non-religious books, back in the Dark Ages. But by the fact you’re reading this little ditty on the devil’s own internet, I guess I’m probably preaching to the converted (or at least the open minded).

So maybe you, like me, are looking for some fuel for your arguments, or should I say persuasive points to help those less enlightened souls see their way clear to letting children read eBooks.

1. Digital communication is the way of the present, not just the future. If we don’t let children interact with technology we are slowing the progress of progress itself. I should stress that I believe in moderation. Don’t misquote me as saying kids should be huddled indoors illuminated only by the glow of their iPods, pads etc, but they must be given the opportunity to explore the functions of these devices through meaningful contexts such as reading great stories that just happen to exist “out there” instead of on paper in your hand.

2. Allowing children to explore eBooks and other online literary avenues allows kids to interact with literature in a way that is meaningful and exciting to them. Remember the days when handwriting was more important than content – times change, people!

3. eBooks and talking books are often narrated by professional actors. I have been down at my local library every week borrowing the most amazing talking books. I know it is not the same as an ebook but for the purposes of this point it is the same. Current educational theory on Teaching English Language Learners (footnote 1) is that children need to learn the rhythm of written language, in order to duplicate it.
I was awed recently by Jennifer Byren’s interview with Alexander McCall Smith, who writes proflicically -including 3 series’ of novels and 1000+ words a day for a newspaper serial.

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH: “. . . I sit at the keyboard and I type and I go into a sort of dissociative state in which I am not necessarily consciously thinking in the same way in which I would consciously think about a problem if I were cogitating on some problem. And so it all just comes out, and it comes out from the sub-conscious mind and it comes out fully-formed so I don’t have to sit there and think what’s going to happen next? What’s he going to say to her or… “

I highly recommend you watch this interview on iview http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s3337304.htm

No wonder children struggle with writing.  Sad to say, the majority of writing lessons I see are drill and practise, with virtually no examples of what the finished text should look like.  The teacher gives them a list of criteria and says off you go.  And reading lessons are just as painful.  A group of ememging readers struggle over every word, never coming to grasp with the overall text because they can barely make sense of the sentence.

That’s why fluent and experssive readers need to read to kids – this doesn’t stop when they begin to read for themselves.  Fortunately, my mother read to us well into primary school.  In educational lingo this is known as “modelled reading”, and is essential for children of all ages.  That’s why I write – I am fortunate enough to be familiar with the rhythm of written language, and this flows through my fingers onto the keyboard, obviously not as successfully as Sandy McCall Smith, but more successfully than the kid in the corner shooting spitballs at everyone.

For an excellent example of what I mean, listen to Monster Blood Tattoo, read by Humphrey Bower, Harry Potter by Stephen Fry, and for the adults Men Who Stare at Goats, though I can’t remember who narrated that one.  The Little Prince is also a great one to listen to.

Last week I was working with a year 5 class who were described as “interesting”, and I had them last session on a rainy day – great.  I had planned an art lesson with them, but naturally got talking about books.  I noticed a couple of them reading various Wipy Kid books and remembered I had the first one downloaded on my phone.  So I played it for them while they worked and we just had the greatest afternoon.   I can still hear Ramon de Ocampo‘s voice in my head a la` “the cheese“.

Also, the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge states that children are able to count listening to a talking book version, so long as they read along with the written text.  I would love some feedback from teachers, librarians and parents to see how listening to talking books, or ebooks with audio helped your child/ren read more books on the PRC lists. See special Notes https://products.schools.nsw.edu.au/prc/rules.html

4.  Back to my point about teaching English language learners (footnote 1).  ebooks are often available online and read in various community languages.  Search for The Little Big Book Club for a great range (link also available on my previous post).  This means that the kid who just arrived from China or Indonesia has some chance at feeling part of the literacy lesson.  Current educational theory is that students should be supported in their first language – great news for mono-linguals such as myself.  ebooks and talking books are higly effective tools in our armoury, so lets use them.

5. Just because it glitters doesn’t mean it’s gold.  Remember that the “e” in ebooks stands for electronic, not educational.  The more we use them, and the more our kids become critical of them the better value they will become.  Electronic or hardcopy, a story is a story.  Video did not actually kill the radio star, ebooks will not actually kill literature.

Footnote 1

Teaching English Language Learners Across the Curriculm (Participants Notes) NSW DET 2009  Multicultural Programs Unit

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